Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Silicon Valley's mountain retreat
Big Basin is only 20 miles from San Jose, a one-hour drive along twisty mountain roads. But when you arrive at the extraordinary park headquarters area, where graceful conifers rise high above 1930s lodge-style buildings, and when you step out into the crisp cool air, it feels like being at a remote mountain resort.
All of Big Basin's old-growth redwood trails start in the basin-like valley near park headquarters. An alluvial flat that extends about a quarter mile north and a quarter mile south of park headquarters has the biggest trees and most attractive woods in the park.
Middle Ridge, rising 1000 feet above the flat, divides the park into two subtly different environments. The region to the east of the ridge is in a rain shadow. Particularly north of park headquarters where the ridge is highest, this area tends to be somewhat dry-looking for a redwood forest, though it's still remarkabaly lush by any other standard. The area is slightly less attractive because of the dense understory of tanoak trees that grows among the redwoods, reducing visibility, and because the ground is mostly bare dirt and leaf litter, giving the forest a disheveled appearance. The redwoods are not generally very large and many have been blackened by fire. The region to the west of the ridge tends to be greener and much more attractive. Sorrel and ferns cover the ground, large trees are more common, and the forest has a richer, healthier look. The park headquarters area is a dramatic exception to this pattern. This outstanding area has many ancient redwoods but little ground cover, suggesting that its water mainly comes from Opal Creek rather than from direct rainfall.
Big Basin is a popular park and although it's never unbearably crowded, around noon on sunny weekends a stream of cars pours into the small parking lot and it can be hard to find parking. Arrive before 10 am or after 5 pm to avoid the rush.
There's a $10 fee to park in the headquarters area, but you can park for free in more remote areas like Whitehouse Canyon Road or China Grade.
Seasonal trail camp closures
All trail camps in Big Basin, Castle Rock, and Portola Redwoods State Parks are closed from November 1 to April 30 each year.
Old-growth redwood hikes
*** Berry Creek loop (10 miles)
*** Redwood Nature Trail (0.6 mile)
*** Sunset–Skyline Short Loop (2.9 miles)
** Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail (25.0 miles)
** Slippery Rock (5.4 miles)
** Hollow Tree and Meteor Trails (8 miles)
* Blooms Creek Loop (3 miles)
* Creeping Forest loop (3 miles)
* Sempervirens Falls (3.4 miles)
*** West Ridge Trail (9.4 miles)
** Basin Trail Loop (12 miles)
** Buzzard's Roost (5 miles)
Getting to Big Basin
From the Bay Area, the most popular way to reach the Big Basin park headquarters is to take Highway 17 from Los Gatos to Felton, then Highway 9 to Boulder Creek and Route 236 to Big Basin. An alternate route is Big Basin Way (Route 236) south from Saratoga. This way is shorter but it's also narrow and twisty, so unless highway 17 is clogged with summer beach traffic the two routes will take the same amount of time.
Parking in the park headquarters area now costs $10.00 per car. The park has a gift shop that also offers sandwiches, chili, and ice cream. The gift shop as well as the visitor center and ranger station may be closed in winter, leaving the park unstaffed. The nearest grocery store, gas station, and drugstore is in Boulder Creek.
All trail camps in Big Basin, Castle Rock, and Portola Redwoods are closed every year from November 1st through April 30th. Some drive-in campgrounds are open year round, although the number of sites is drastically reduced in the winter.
Since there aren't any places to eat in the immediate Big Basin area, I'm listing some places in Saratoga and Santa Cruz, about an hour from the park.
© 2006–2013 David Baselt